Let's Go Mexico (City for 6 months)
April 24, 2011 4:51 PM   Subscribe

I am a US citizen considering spending 6 months in Mexico City in about 12 to 18 months from now. What kind of things do I need to consider over the next year or so?

I anticipate leaving my job in 1 to 1 1/2 years and would like to take some time off from working before starting a new job. Need to recharge the creative side of my life and after a few visits I've decided Mexico City is the place to do it.

I don't plan on working or driving while I am there. I would like to rent a small place in a nice, walkable part of town (hopefully Condesa) and spend my time doing some kind of creative writing and composing music.

Some things I'm already thinking about:

Are furnished efficiency-style apartments available for six month rental in Mexico City? I won't need much space but would like a small kitchen, shower and reliable internet access. I would like to do this as cheaply as is possible while still staying in a reasonably nice and safe neighborhood.

Will a tourist visa be sufficient for me?

What should I bring with me versus buying once I am there? I would like to bring one suitcase of clothes, a computer and maybe 12 books. I would like to buy a bicycle and cheap nylon string guitar once I am there.

How should I handle my finances while I am there? Set up a bank account in the US with a bank that has a no-ATM-fees agreement with a Mexican bank?

What other things do I need to start considering? Please limit answers to practical considerations about making this happen not whether or not I should do it.

Other background info: I live in Texas. My Spanish is limited but I am already working on that. Don't drink so that should save some cash.

Asking anonymously because current co-workers also read Mefi and I don't want my employer to know that I am considering this. Throw-away email: askmexicocity@hotmail.com
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Will a tourist visa be sufficient for me?

A tourist card is valid for up to 180 days. And since you won't be working, will suffice. Make sure you tell the dude at customs you're staying that long as sometimes the immigration guys aren't paying attention to your landing card and might only give you 2 weeks. You can get an extension I think, or just pick up a new card if you go back the States.

How should I handle my finances while I am there? Set up a bank account in the US with a bank that has a no-ATM-fees agreement with a Mexican bank?

Definitely use a bank that won't charge you an arm and a leg to get cash. I use Bank of America and can use Santender and Scotiabank w/o a surcharge. These aren't most prevalent in the country but usually close enough to get to avoid the fees. Using your debit card for credit purchases will have a fee (depending on the bank it is a few % more than the amount but because Visa's exchange rate is the interbank rate, it isn't too bad compared to a retail casa de cambio). Since Mexico is pretty much a cash basis, when I'm there for any length of time I have to train myself to get a bunch of pesos to avoid fees. I believe Capital One credit cards still don't charge a foreign exchange fee for credit card purchases.

Cellphone: If you have an unlocked GSM phone, you can get a "chip" SIM (regular or microsim) from a Telcel store (as opposed to the authorized dealers or other shops where you must buy a phone...which start out really cheap if you're just using voice/txt). Mexico is old school and there are different calling zones so calling Baja or Monterrey may be considered long distance. Calling other Telcel customers is cheapest, calling the US/Canada is usually the same per minute as calling a non-Telcel person. I say Telcel because they've hooked me up in the past and each time I've tried to get a Movistar SIM but they won't sell me one because I'm a foreigner which is too bad since I have friends on Movistar I could call for cheap but your mileage may vary. My Sony-Ericsson phone can do interwebs and with the prepaid Amigo plan I can buy internet access a day at a time by going onto their website form my phone in Mexico. You refill your account with cards sold all over (or at some places like Oxxo or 7-11 you give them your number and they'll top it off, sometimes with bonus pesos). The 150MB for 43 pesos is a lot better than AT&T's $19.99/MB if you want to use the web on the go. There's also monthly plans and plans you can get for your computer if you can't find a place with internet to live. You should also think about signing up with Boingo Wireless that for $10/mth, it will let you use all of the Prodigy Movil hotspots in Mexico from your computer. There's tons of Prodigy Movil hotspots to make up for the lack of free wifi you might be used in gringolandia. The problem is if you need to use one in a pinch, you have to buy an access card (like an cellphone airtime card but harder to find). At the least, you can get an a la carte Boingo service for free and get charged only when you use it ($8/day) and you can log into Prodigy Movil on their roaming page.

Travel light: You're already thinking the right thing. Getting your laundry done by the kilo is pretty cheap so you don't need a lot of clothes. And if you forget/stain/etc stuff you can always buy something new. I wouldn't bring 12 books due to the weight, but I do buy books on the road if I want to read (there's bookstores with English language books in the DF if you don't want to practice Spanish).

Definitely use the time to immerse yourself in Spanish and the Mexican culture. Take weekend trips to nearby towns like Cuernavaca and Puebla, and attractions like Teotihuacan. Also, there's low-cost airlines like Volaris and VivaAerobus that can get you to other cities in the Mexico on the cheap.

Enjoy your time. I was very close to doing the same thing a few years ago but ended up getting a new job I could turn down. Now I sort of wish I did.
posted by birdherder at 6:25 PM on April 24, 2011

Hey, I'm in a similar boat. I lived in Mexico City for two months last year, loved it, and had to return because of a family emergency. In August I'm moving back with my girlfriend for a year. I'll probably be moving to a smaller city like Guanojuato, Oaxaca, Xalapa, because of the bad rep for muggings that D.F. has and while I personally don't mind it much I feel like I would worry about my girlfriend.

I think a tourist visa would be sufficient based on everything I've read, although I believe you should make sure you get the 180 day visa the first time so as to avoid having to renew it.

One thing I'd recommend is taking some Spanish classes at UNAM. It is one of the highest rated universities in Mexico and their classes are very good. It is also far cheaper than any other classes I've seen offered in Mexico. Possibly the best thing about it is the list of cheap apartments they make available to students. They are not all affordable and few, if any, are in Condesa, but I was very happy with what I found and I know non-Mexicans often end up paying above market rate for apartments. You can probably take a two month class and keep the apartment for the next four months.

You should get an account with TD Bank because they don't have foreign transaction fees (the only bank). There are a couple of credit cards that don't charge for foreign transactions. Capital One is what I have. The NY Times recently had an article about the best credit cards.

Condesa is a bit pricey. I lived in Del Valle and was very happy with the price and neighborhood though it's not as hip a place as Condesa, Roma, or Coyoacan.

E-mail me at nanogreenwood @ gmail if you have any more specific questions or you wanna meet up!

The thorn tree forum on lonely planet also has a lot of long-term residents with good advice.
posted by pynchonesque at 6:45 PM on April 24, 2011

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